‘I was watching the roof as it was peeling off,’ communities rush to repair mobile homes damaged by Marshall Fire winds
Karen Finch, who lives in a mobile home park called the Sans Souci Cooperative, remembers feeling nervous on the day of the Marshall Fire; the wind that morning felt different.
“I saw a branch that went straight through somebody's windshield,” Finch said. “It impaled the entire windshield.”
“I saw a branch that went straight through somebody's windshield,” Finch said. “It impaled the entire windshield.”Karen Finch, a resident at the Sans Souci mobile home park
Sans Souci is located across the road from where the Marshall Fire started. Finch’s house, which is tan with teal trim, faces open space, the Flatirons and grazing cattle.
“I probably suffered not as much as a lot of people, but the way the winds blow through here so hard, I mean, it just kind of pushed all my skirting in and stuff and then it ripped the side,” Finch said. “And I have a broken window.”
Over 1,000 homes in Boulder County burned down that day but the impact of the wind was significant too. At least 450 mobile homeowners in communities across the county reported damage to windows, doors, siding and pipes. Now, an effort is underway to get repairs done before the cold weather sets in.
The City of Boulder and Boulder County are partnering to send assessors to check out the damage, buy materials and find people to do the work for free.
As part of this program, assessors are also looking for ways to save homeowners money and improve resiliency through potential energy and water efficiency upgrades. They are examining everything from appliances to windows to insulation.
During a recent work-day at Sans Souci, organized by the city and county, a local construction company along with the Colorado chapter of Mennonite Disaster Services cleaned up yards, fixed doors and put up new siding and skirting- the material that wraps around the bottom of a mobile home.
“We've been getting help from the community, which has been really, really, really, really helpful,” Finch said. “And it's not to say that others don't deserve help, but I mean, I'm just saying for us, it's more challenging because we can't just throw money at it because we don't have it.”
A long and complicated recovery
Mobile home communities are more vulnerable to natural disasters compared to other housing types and can be slower to recover from them. At the Sans Souci Cooperative, most residents are over 55-years old, many are on fixed incomes. Most live far below the median income in Boulder County. Some lack insurance.
“It was scary. It was so windy. And we came out and for example, with this house, I was watching the roof as it was peeling off.”Michael Pierce, the Sans Souci cooperative’s president
“It was scary. It was so windy,” Michael Pierce, the cooperative’s president, said, pointing to a home with the blue tarp where the roof should be. “And we came out and for example, with this house, I was watching the roof as it was peeling off.”
Three homes suffered catastrophic roof
damage during the Marshall Fire; one resident is still unable to move back in. Pipes burst in almost half of these residences and many people remained without water for months. Repairing, and in some cases replacing, homes is expensive. So was fixing the community’s self-contained water system. An additional complication: part of Sans Souci is in a floodplain. If repairs surpass 50% of the assessed value of the home, the county requires rebuilding to current flood regulations.
On top of all that, Sans Souci residents recently started paying higher rent. The cooperative became a resident owned community last year when homeowners bought the land underneath their homes from the company that had owned it. To make the purchase work, everyone had to start paying more per month.
“A lot of people were strapped financially,” Pierce said. “It's been a struggle just to make it so that people aren't displaced by the cost of all the work that needs to be done.”
Nobody has had to move out yet but Pierce says the situation is still precarious.
Help Could Be On The Way
Some financial assistance has been available through state and local governments. Initially, $1.5 million in funding for mobile homeowners was given out through the Disaster Assistance Center, the majority of it coming from Boulder County. Homeowners have had access to some funds from FEMA and various non-profits. Earlier this year, Sans Souci raised $45,000 through a GoFundMe campaign.
The Boulder County Board of County Commissioners has approved $5 million of federal stimulus funding for mobile homes, including for repair assistance.
As a part of the clean-up effort, volunteers at Sans Souci fixed the siding on John McKee’s tan house. During the fire, wind had blown branches into his home, tearing holes that McKee patched up with spray foam.
“You know, I didn't have power for four days. I had to put a new hot water tank in,” McKee said. “I consider myself lucky because I didn't lose everything that I own. I feel much sorrier for the people that lost their entire lives, basically.”